March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. You probably didn’t know that, which is the whole point of this editorial.
Each year, the calendar is full of such designations, not only for each month of the calendar but also “awareness” weeks and days designated to call attention to a specific cause, many of them related to medical conditions, in an effort to solicit donations for research, treatment and prevention.
But not all efforts to raise awareness manage to break through to a broad audience.
Chances are you already know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, thanks primarily to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, whose “Relay for Life” and “pink ribbon” campaigns collected $196 million in 2020, according to a list of the Top 100 Charities published by Forbes.
Yet more people die of heart disease each year than all types of cancer, and breast cancer ranks third behind lung cancer and colorectal cancer, in deaths caused by cancer in the U.S.
These facts should not be taken as an effort to discourage contributions to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, of course. The impact of these campaigns are literally incalculable. Although Susan G. Komen ranked just 86th on the Forbes List (United Way Worldwide topped the list with $3.85 billion in private donations), perhaps the campaign’s greatest impact is something that cannot be measured in dollars. Over the years, the awareness campaign has encouraged millions of women to be aware of the risks by getting mammograms and self-screening. The early detection that is often the difference between life and death has been one of the campaign’s greatest successes.
What’s true of breast cancer is likely true for a wide range of medical conditions and illnesses, which need funds for research and treatment as well as informing the public with vital information.
Not every group engages in high-profile campaigns, but those that are successful in bringing their messages to a broad audience are often rewarded.
The best example, in fact, may be the first nationwide awareness campaign, the March of Dimes. Founded in January of 1938 by President Franklin Roosevelt to raise money for research of Polio (FDR is probably the most famous Polio victim), the genius behind the effort came from entertainer Eddie Cantor, who came up with the idea of asking children to donate a dime to the effort. In the middle of the Depression, the idea was a 10-cent donation was something most people could afford to do.
The response was overwhelming. By the end of the first months, more than 80,000 letters arrived at the White House containing all amounts of currency. But the bulk of the envelopes, distinguished by the distinctive lettering of a child’s hand, contained a single dime – 2,680,000 dimes by the end of the month. That’s $5.3 million today, adjusted for inflation.
Those donations were critical in funding the research for Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine in 1952.
For 84 years now, the fight for critical donations has continued. Some groups have employed high-profile efforts while others have yet to capture our attention.
We encourage everyone who can to support these causes. You might think of diversifying your donations to help other groups whose fund-raising efforts have not been quite as successful.
As we have seen, the dimes and dollars we contribute can make a difference to so many causes that are worthy of our support.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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